The impressive short stories in Astray are based on actual historical events. Donoghue, who wrote The Room, is able to get into the minds of countless people from a wide variety of historical periods.
"Man and Boy," which portrays the loving relationship between an elephant and his keeper is based on Wild Animals in Captivity. The story closely follows the actual removal of Jumbo's London Zoo to a circus and the uproar it caused.
"The Widow's Cruse" is loosely based on a journal entry from the Weekly Journal dated May 26, 1735. A widow hoodwinks a man who means to take her fortune.
Some of Donoghue's stories are inspired by her trip to the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Arizona e.g. "Last Supper at Brown's" and the "The Long Way Home."
The narrator's dramatic dialogues gives readers a keyhole glimpse to history. Its just a keyhole glimpse; We don't see, for instance, the whole of the
Revolutionary War, just the experience of one fifteen-year-old Hessian in "The Hunt" who decides to act villainously.
We don't see the whole slave experience in Texas; we're given instead the story of one man who kills his master and runs away with his mistress ("Last Supper at Brown's"). We're told the lamentable story of a bored daughter whose games and lies lead to the selling of a honest slave-girl, Milly ("Vanitas")
Astray is a powerhouse of a short story collection that is divided into three parts: Departures, In-Transit, Arrivals and Aftermaths.